(June 24) KINGSBURG, Calif. — Chiquita Fresh has moved its buying office for its California stone fruit from its Midwest headquarters to the heart of the grape, peach, plum and nectarine growing region.

Chiquita Fresh NA, a division of the Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International Inc., is now selling grapes, melons and stone fruit out of its Kingsburg Central Valley office. The company has been in the California stone fruit and grape deal for three years.

“We felt having a presence on the West Coast would be an asset to our sales,” said Richard Bird, Chiquita’s West Coast sourcing and export manager.

“A lot of the customers are out here.”

The four-person sales office, open since late March, features produce industry veterans Mac Cordova, Dale Serra and Joe Tobin at the sales desk.

Cordova sells grapes while Tobin handles stone fruit and Serra melon sales.

Dave Watson, Chiquita’s general manager of deciduous fruit and vegetable business, said it’s okay to be centralized when importing from Mexico and Chile. However, it’s important to have people grounded in the production area when selling a domestic deal, he said.

West Coast sales have increased for Chiquita, which represents and packs stone fruit and grapes for eight growers.

Chiquita has increased its sales of stone fruit and grapes 150% from 1 million boxes during its second year of sales to 2.5 million boxes this year.

Cordova has sold California and Chilean tree fruit since 1972. He previously worked for Ballantine Produce Co. Inc., Sanger; Kings Canyon Corrin LLC, Reedley; the David Oppenheimer Co., Vancouver, British Columbia; and Dole Fresh Fruit Co., Westlake Village.

Serra has sold melons for 15 years for Fresh Del Monte’s Sanger office.

Tobin ran his own brokerage called Tobin Trading in Fresno, for four years. He has been in the California produce industry since 1987.

California’s grape season, which started in May in the Coachella Valley, will transition to the San Joaquin Valley in early July and run through Thanksgiving, Watson said. The deal is running on time this season, he said.

The region’s stone fruit deal runs through early fall.